|[ Writer ] = BAD|
|[ 03/31/03 ] = I Lift Weights To Knock Teeth Out|
This article is about my impressions of Cave's two newest shooters, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label and Ketsui. Not meant to be comprehensive, this article is basically just praise for the Cave development staff. With such good titles like DoDonPachi, Guwange, and ProGear under their belt, the minds at Cave have once again shown the world that they make some of the best shooting games in the industry by giving us the greatness of DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label. Soon after, Cave followed up with the goodness of Ketsui. Both games feature not only Cave's signature manic shooter gameplay, but also the cool enemy designs of the developer's other works. Reading this will give you an idea of how fun these games are, but for those who haven't yet played either of the featured titles, take the measures needed to play them.
Not having played DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou enough before DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label came out, my impressions are primarily based on the Black Label version. To start, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label carries on the great tradition of Cave's established DonPachi series faithfully. Just as in the previous entries of the series, DDPDOJBL has lots and lots of bullets for hungry fans of good games to swim their way through. With great graphics, good gameplay, good audio, various options, and great overall design, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou is a shooting game fan's dream come true.
The gameplay of DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label is a manic shmup fan's dream come true, with lots of bullets, lots of explosions, and various options. First, DDPDOJBL allows the player to pick from two ships, Type-A (red) and Type-B (green), each with their own attributes and unique look (below). Second, DDPDOJBL allows players to pick from three nicely-designed female pilots; Exy (purple), Leinyan (red), and Shotia (pink). Each of these beautifully-drawn pilots have their own unique shot and beam attributes that are combined with the attributes of the chosen ship. Awesome. Cave did a wonderful job giving players various ways to play the game. In DDPDOJBL, there are several different combinations that can be made with each of the pilots when combined with each of the ships. My personal favorite combination is the Type-A ship with Exy as my pilot. Options are the key, and Cave did a good job with this. Another cool feature that I liked from DDPDOJ that was carried over to DDPDOJBL is the combo system. I think the inclusion of a combo counter based on enemy hits makes this game even more fun, since the player can make his/her own combo goals and such to achieve. The counter can go all the way up into the thousands; the biggest combos that I have ever heard of is a Japanese player's score with the highest combo around 3000 hits. Nice. Although my combos usually don't get past the 400 or 500 mark, the combo system is definitely a nice feature to have in a shooter.
Although DDPDOJBL contains no enemies that weren't in DDPDOJ, the game is, however, more difficult. Certain spots that were safe havens in DDPDOJ are hell, power-ups are harder to get, there seem to be more enemies, and definitely more shots. Can't point out any specific spots, but DDPDOJBL is noticeably harder than the game before it. Can't really say if this has been in any previous Cave shooters, but in DDPDOJBL shots come not only from above or at angles from above, but also straight from the left and right sides. A surprise, indeed. Coming into this game before having played any Donpachi titles will tear you a new ass. Coming into DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou having not played any of Cave's shooters will rip you apart. Coming into the game having not ever played a manic shooter will have you on the brink of suicide. This game is serious. Although it doesn't hate you as much as the R-Type series does, this game wants you dead.
DDPDOJBL's control is the same as DDPDOJ's, with a Shot button, a Bomb button, and an Auto Shot button. While most old-schoolers (like myself) will use the Shot button to wreak havoc, Cave went ahead and put in an Auto Shot button as well. I thought it was cool to see cave put an Auto Shot button in DDPDOJ and DDPDOJBL, since it is not common for developers to devote another (or extra) button to an Auto Shot option. Having an Auto Shot button also allows for players to use the Shot button for Beam shots, while using the Auto Shot button for normal shots, as opposed to toggling between the two types of shots with the Shot button (like I do). The shots in the DonPachi series have always looked cool, and in this latest entry after powering up a bit, your ship conveniently deals masses of shots that blanket the screen in terror. We're talking some serious firepower here, and it's all coming from your ship. Pretty cool if you ask me.
The beam shot that was in DP, DDP, and DDPDOJ was thankfully carried over to DDPDOJBL, and although it may have been tweaked a bit, it still destroys more than ever. Probably one of the coolest aspects of the DP series signature gameplay, holding down the Shot button allows your ship to release a Beam shot that not only looks cool, but has many practical usages as well. Used primarily as a weapon against the bigger enemies, the Beam can also be used to slow down your ship, or to mow down rows of small enemies when enemy fire is at a minimum level. When normal shots seem to almost bounce off the enemy, there's nothing better than using a beam to split them into lots of shiny point stars. The Beam also gets bigger as you collect Power-Up icons, eventually growing to be the width of your ship.
Moving on, the Bomb button in DDPDOJBL has a few different usages that give the game a good amount of depth. The giant, swirling beam of fire from DDPDOJ that is released upon usage of the Bomb button in DDPDOJBL is awesome in all its destructive glory. The Bomb, when used in DDPDOJBL, nullifies shots while covering the screen with clouds of fire, and looks cool while doing so. Just watch the enemy fall. Cave also cleverly assigned to the Bomb button activation of the Hyper Shot, which makes activation of Hyper Shots a hell of a lot easier than hitting an added fourth button. The only problem I have with this, however, is that it seems a bit hard to manage between using a Hyper or Bomb when you need to; sometimes I find myself wanting to use a Bomb for invincibility, but I instead use a Hyper and still have to go through the pain of dodging shots I didn't want to. Maybe experienced players can toggle between them somehow, without any trouble, but sometimes I run into this problem. I like the idea of the Hyper Shot, but I just wish there was another way to use both the Bomb and the Hyper in harmony (not sure how this would work, though). This is the only part of the game that I have problems with, but in no way does it warrant not playing the game. This is one of those games that must be played. A "must-play." Hypers are collected throughout the game, and can be activated one after another, with score benefits that I do not yet understand enough to properly explain. In fact, just like other Cave shooters, the scoring system of DDPDOJBL is intricate; intricate enough to confuse me when I tried to understand it to write this article. Anyway, setting my score confusion aside, the power-ups of DDPDOJBL consist of "P" icons that power-up your normal shots, "B" icons that add a bomb to your stock, as well as gold stars that come in lots of fun sizes to give you points. Also in DDPDOJBL are well-hidden, incoveniently-placed gold wasp point icons as well.
As far as audio goes, Cave did a particularly nice job with the music in DDPDOJBL; even as early as the first stage you will hear some amazingly nice vocals and killer boss fight music. The score of DDPDOJBL is very good at reminding you that the fate of the world is at stake if you don't win the game. Sound effects are the Cave shooter fare, with some cool-sounding explosions, and other sounds heavy machinery pushing lots of firepower. The announcer, although not as much of a spaz as in DonPachi, is still a bit jumpy, shouting "Watch out, watch out!" as bosses approach. Not a bad thing perse, but man, why does the announcer have to be a spaz like that? Anyway, for the most part, the audio of DDPDOJBL is pretty good, especially the music; the tracks of each stage fit just right with their respective themes.
Powered by Cave's own custom hardware, DDPDOJBL features more detailed enemies and backgrounds that run at a nice resolution. Just as DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, the updated DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label features the same beautifully designed enemies and backgrounds. Although the two player ships don't look as cool as the rest of the craft in the game, they nevertheless fit the theme of the game and add the refreshing variety in design that cave shooters are known for. Enemy craft all look fantastic in their futuristic design, with very nice texturing and detail put into each. As seen below, from the bosses to the smaller ships, the enemies in DDPDOJBL have great design. In fact, I think that some of Cave's best enemy designs are from DDPDOJBL; the first stage boss is awesome (below first row, second ship), tanks have a futuristic look to them, while the many aircraft look just plain awesome in their sleek design. Just as in ESP Rade, in DDPDOJBL Cave carries on the tradition of intricately detailed enemies powered by new hardware. It's too bad that sometimes some of the coolest enemies are destroyed so quickly you don't even get to see how cool they look! As for backgrounds, the first stage looks really cool, and the last few scenes of the game look especially nice with good texturing thanks to Cave's own hardware. Since all of the stages were drawn in Cave's design style, Cave fans know what to expect in the stage design of DDPDOJBL. I hope I stressed enough just how nice of a job Cave did with the enemy design in DDPDOJBL, because it is one of the best parts of the game.
No Cave shooter is complete without its fare share of animation, and DDPDOJBL has lots of it. Though there is slowdown in some spots, they are few, and the game blazes as it pushes loads of explosions, bullets, and enemy animation. Bullets litter the screen, some small, some big, some fast, some slow. Explosions are colorfully detailed and animate nicely even as shrapnel flies across the screen. Also just as in past Cave shooters, there are many types of bullets and bullet designs; the waves of bullet designs in DDPDOJBL are so mesmerizing in that you might actually lose ships from actually trying to look at them. DDPDOJBL pushes lots and lots of bullets onscreen, and the last few bosses of the game will be quick to remind you that there's no time to look at bullet patterns in awe, giving you three or four different patterns as a time to dodge. Bosses also animate nicely; probably the coolest is when the first boss ship's propellors slowly gain speed as it leaves a runway. Beautiful in its execution.
The last part of the game I will talk about is presentation.
Yet another area where DDPDOJBL shines, the presentation of the game looks
clean, with some especially cool illustrations. The portraits that flash
quickly in sequence after a stage is cleared are nicely drawn in lush
color. To see these beautiful illustrations, go to Cave's site
and go to the DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou section to see how nice they really
look. If you can't read Japanese or can't make your way through the site,
I plan to include them on this site in a future artwork article for preservation
purposes. Speaking of artwork, the below Cave ship designs for DDPDOJ
and Ketsui are from the company's web site, and I in no way claim to have
made them myself. They are on this site as a means of preservation, as
well as explanation. Anyway, overall, Cave's DDPDOJBL does not disappoint.
The game shines in more areas in one, and with One of the only disappointments
about this game is the fact that it isn't in my living room yet. Cave
is already taking steps towards increased production of the series, so
it shouldn't be as hard to find this game as it is to find the company's
other titles. DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label should please fans of
the genre and manic shmups alike. Raise hell to get this game. Do what
it takes. Going out of your way to get this game into your local arcade
or living room will prove to have not been in vain when you play it. This
game rules. Besides, who can deny a shooting game whose title includes
"Great Peaceful Death?" Combine "Peaceful Death" with
a Black Label and you got yourself a winner.
Hot on the heels of Cave's awesome DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label came the release of another fantastic vertical shooter: Ketsui. A manic shmup just like its big brothers DDPDOJBL and DDPDOJ, Ketsui is yet another manic shooter grand effort by the brilliant minds of the staff at Cave. Where DDPDOJBL is jet shooter of tanks, aircraft, and various other monstrosities of destruction, Ketsui is essentially a helicopter shooter. With a similar futuristic look of the ship and enemy designs found in DDPDOJBL, Ketsui also features the same amount of beautiful detail and animation. For those who didn't like DDPDOJBL too much, Ketsui should fill in the void. For those that were pleased with DDPDOJBL (like me), Ketsui is a welcome addition to the Cave family of quality shooters. Ketsui, while similar to DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label in many aspects graphically, stands on its own as a fantastic manic shooter. A long time in the making, I have finally been able to sit down and write about how this game kicks ass.
When I saw Ketsui upon its release, I couldn't get through the crowds and lines to play the game even once. Although I did get lots and lots of DDPDOJBL practice waiting for a chance to play Ketsui, I was anxious to see how Cave's new shooter played. After lots and lots of waiting, I have finally played Ketsui enough to actually compare the game to Cave's other efforts a bit. First, Ketsui offers you two bad-ass helicopters to choose from, Type-A and Type-B (like DDPDOJBL). Just as in DDPDOJBL, I usually pick the Type-A wide-shot helicopter because I can't use the Type-B shot options too well. Both helicopters have their own respective attributes as well as their own respective pilots similar to DDPDOJ and DDPDOJBL. In Ketsui, there are two pilots for both of the two helicopters, but they are not interchangeable (unless there is a code) like in DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label. Ketsui's pilot system is not as extensive as the pilot system in DDPDOJBL, but the game is so well-made that it doesn't make a difference. Ketsui's gameplay revolves around a completely different set of rules, so the pilot system actually fits the game well. Like its big brother DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label, Ketsui's controls consist of three buttons; Shot, Bomb, and Auto Shot.
As described in the DDPDOJBL section, the Shot button is used for normal shots, but like other Cave shooters releases a different type of shot when held. In DDPDOJBL, the alternate shot is a Beam shot, but in Ketsui that there's two alternate shots that fire simultaneously: a Lock-On shot, and a straight Power Shot. The Lock-On shot in Ketsui essentially has two functions; a straight Power Shot for oncoming targets, and a Lock-On shot to track enemies while dodging their shots. Not too powerful but not severely weak, the Lock-On shots fly at the enemy and do tick damage that adds up and if you can dodge well, eventually destroy the enemy. While the Lock-On shots are useful and look cool, just as in ESP Rade, ProGear, and other Cave shooters, these shots slow your ship down when you use them. Also talked about in an ESP Rade article on this site, slowdown induced by the usage of the Lock-On or Power Shot techniques isn't always a bad thing, since the slowing of your aircraft allows for a bit more time to dodge bullets. The Lock-On shots do more damage when close, so the most effective way to use them is in close shot dodging distance, where not only the Lock-On shots hit, but the straight Power Shots as well.
I liked the Lock-On shot system from other shooters like RayCrisis and SoukyuGurentai, but the system for this type of shot in Ketsui seems a lot easier to control and get used to. Where the technique of locking on to enemies and shooting them down takes lots of practice in RayCrisis and SoukyuGurentai, in Ketsui anyone who has played shooters before can jump in and easily take down enemies with the Lock-On shot. I love the gameplay of RayCrisis, but the lock-on technique in Ketsui is a lot easier to use. Also in Ketsui is that second button; a Bomb of sorts. I have played this game a more than once and I still don't quite understand exactly when to use this effectively, but because it nullifies shots and gives your helicopter a temporary shield, it seems like it takes more skill to use than the Bomb in DDPDOJBL. The third button, Auto Fire, is used just as in DDPDOJBL; for those who do not want to tap the Shot button repeatedly to deal damage, or for toggling between Lock-On shots and normal shots without using one button for both. Just as I said about this feature in DDPDOJBL, I think it is great that Cave put this button in the game, simply because it gives the player more options in game control. I'm a twitch player so I seldomly use the Auto fire button (it's for the days when I'm a bit tired), but I've seen some of the Japanese players use the Shot and Auto Shot buttons in harmony. Oh, and I think I forgot to mention that like DDPDOJBL, in Ketsui your 'copter blankets the screen in enough shots to drench the world in the flames of hell five times over. In other words, the shots that come from your ship are many. Maybe if you go to Cave's site you can see the amount of shots that are spent in this game. Or you can take the necessary measures needed to play the game and see for yourself firsthand.
Now, on to the graphical aspects of Ketsui. Also powered by Cave's custom hardware, Ketsui shares the same graphical sharpness and smoothness seen in the recent DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label. As mentioned before, the enemies and player aircraft in DDPDOJBL sport some impressive detail and design, and the enemies and player aircraft in Ketsui are no different. As seen below, the various helicopters, tanks, and other machinery of destruction look awesome. The coolest enemy in Ketsui is the blue helicopter below, called "Seahorse"; it doesn't put up too much of a fight, but that just means the developers gave you more time to see how cool it looks in motion. Just look at the large white helicopter below, called "Frog"; could you imagine this monstrosity floating through the air? Yeah, sounds a bit scary, so you better do a good job of destroying it in the game. Anyway, moving on, to compliment the awesome design of the enemies in Ketsui, each of them are also detailed nicely; just take a look at the tanks below, and you can see each of the individual guns they have ready for you. During the game, the green tank on the left side of the bottom row shows some nice detail as it slithers across the screen. On par with the intricate detail and great design that DDPDOJBL has in its enemy composition, Ketsui is another demonstration of what the minds at Cave are capable of. There are man, many nice graphical touches in Ketsui that 2-D fans will love.
Sharing yet another graphical aspect with its brother DDPDOJBL, Ketsui's stages look nice. Ketsui's stages consist mostly of enemy territory, across land, sea, and even inside of a mountain. Mountains, cliffs, warehouses, sand dunes, and other parts of the backgrounds are textured nicely in light color hues. In some stages, docks and ships cast shadows upon the sea, while huge skyscraper buildings with mounted turrets also make an appearances. Again, with the power of Cave's custom hardware, Ketsui's backgrounds run at a nice, clear resolution with good detail.
Ketsui's gameplay is that of Cave's signature manic shooter formula, with lots and lots of blue and pink bullets, big and small, covering the screen. Ketsui pits you against armies of tanks, helicopters, and other large weapons that clutter the screen and pour out generous amounts of shots for you to dodge. Although Ketsui shares the manic formula with most other Cave shooters, for the most part, the game differs in the fact that it is much faster. Compared to Ketsui, ESP Rade seems a bit slow, and even the sometimes fast pace of DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label can't really match that of the frantic speed Ketsui runs at. Ketsui's nimble little 'copters weave in and out of shots almost quicker than the human eye can follow. Ketsui's gameplay is so fast that even Japanese DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou veteran players find the game challenging. With Ketsui's break-neck speed and difficulty level, you'll be sweating like a whore in church by the end of the first stage. Ketsui can be said to be made for the Cave fanatics who asked for an alternate, faster shooting experience than DDPDOJ; not sure if Ketsui is really harder than DDPDOJBL or not, but I would say that Ketsui is definitely harder than DDPDOJ, and about equal with DDPDOJBL. The collision also seems to be about the same as other Cave shooters, which is good, because there are lots and lots of tight situations in this game.
Another thing about Ketsui's gameplay is the method of scrolling Cave put in the game; the third stage scrolls north, southeast, and then north again (like the shape of the letter N). In this particular stage, the screen scrolls Southeast as you battle a docked battleship. Awesome. Cool to see small tweaks like this in the rules of vertical 2-D shooting. As in past Cave shooters, through twitch efforts, your ship can be guided through the many pretty (and not so pretty) bullet designs that enemies spit out at a constant rate, all while collecting power-up icons.
Ketsui's power-ups consist of the typical Cave "P" shot Power-Up icons, as well as the classic "B" icon that grants a Bomb. Ketsui's point system is dependent on collecting cubes with numbers on them, which can be sucked into the ship simply by shooting. Littering the screen big and small, the number cube score multipliers are bigger and worth more if you destroy an enemy up close, while destroying enemies from afar gets you smaller cubes that are worth less. There are also other special score multiplier bonuses, depending on how you kill some of the enemies in the game. Last but not least, it is especially refreshing to see 1UP icons floating in seas of bullets every now and then.
Although I haven't heard too much of Ketsui's audio, I can say that the bit that I have heard is good. I especially like the first stage music; why is it that I like the first stage music of cave's two newest shooters the best? Anyway, the tunes may be better than the little bit that I have heard, so I won't completely judge the game's audio just yet. For sound effects, Ketsui's many explosions, big and small, are of the typical Cave fare, as well as the sound of shots leaving your craft. One thing you don't hear as much in DDPDOJBL, however, is the constant sound of helicopter blades cutting through the air. This particular sound adds a sort of menacing, lingering fear when playing the game, considering the difference in blade sounds between small and big enemy helicopters.
So how does Ketsui stand up to the shooters in Cave's past? How does it stand up to the shooters of the present day? Ketsui is an awesome shooter that will go down in history as one of the best to grace the genre. The amount of time and energy Cave's staff put into this game can be clearly seen, as the game shines brightly in more areas than one. Those who have access to this game (and like manic shooters) have no reason not to play it, and those who don't have access to the game should take the first chance to play the game because that first chance may be your last. Hopefully with the game's success thus far, Cave will look into increasing production so that it doesn't suffer from the same disease of rarity that Cave's past titles do. It would be sad to see a game as good as this in such short supply that some wouldn't even be able to play it. That would be nothing short of a tragedy. If you live in America, Europe, or any other place outside of Asia, take the necessary measures to play this game. Beg, plead, threaten, or do whatever else it takes to get this game in your local arcade. If your local arcade operator is stubborn (which is unfortunately almost always the case), then work overtime and save up enough money to wheel this game into your living room for your whole family to play. Even if you have no family to force the game upon, nevertheless you owe it to yourself to somehow obtain this game if the arcades in your area refuse to get good games.